Betty Stuart was not giving up her quest to adopt Mechi, the little girl she had bonded with. They headed back to Ecuador.

But a bit of unfinished business remained. Mechi's parents were alive, and Betty had to ask their permission to adopt her.

"I loved this little girl with all my heart and I was hoping her parents would sign the necessary papers," Betty says now. "I knew it would be difficult to predict Mechi's future if the adoption didn't go through, but I had to try."

She decided she was going to climb the Andrean mountain to see Mechi's parents.

The climb up the mountain would yield interesting things.

A few days after returning to Ecuador, Betty talked to her friend and fellow Peace Corps volunteer Ralph Blessing about her quest. She wanted to take Mechi with her so that her parents could see her eight months after the toddler had been dropped off at the hospital where Betty worked.

Blessing offered to go along. They all set out to climb the mountain to talk with Jose and Maria Perugachi.

"I felt like it was important to talk with the Perugachis personally about the adoption," Betty says now. "It was my intention to respect these people who are poor farmers and are seldom permitted to make any important decisions. But I felt in my heart that even if her parents kept Mechi, I would know that the matter was handled with love and respect."

Although it was only about 36 miles to get to the Perugachis' home, the difficult terrain of the mountain made traveling by car impossible after a certain point. At last, the narrowed road forced them to leave the car and hike up.

The mountain was a spectacular walk that included forests, waterfalls and valleys. But after what seemed like hours of climbing with Mechi on her shoulders, Betty could go no further.

Blessing continued up alone to bring Mechi's parents part way down to meet them.

While they waited, Mechi played in a little pond. After what seems even now like the longest hours in Betty's life, Blessing returned, with Mechi's parents.

The meeting, their first in eight months, was emotional. Mechi's father touched his little girl's face and called her name. He then extended his hand over her and blessed her. Betty could tell she had been a daddy's girl by the expression on her face.

After Blessing introduced Betty and Mechi's parents, they held each other but did not speak, because of the language barrier. They went down the mountain together to Betty's house.

With Blessing acting as interpreter because Betty's Spanish was still a bit shaky, she proposed the adoption. The parents agreed and made arrangements to sign the papers.

Jose asked only one thing of Betty in return: That his little girl one day be confirmed as a Roman Catholic. Betty promised to make it happen.

It was love that provided Mechi with the opportunity for a new life with Betty, who had extended her Peace Corps enlistment for another year.

"Mechi's adoption only took a year after her parents gave their permission," Betty says. They spent most of 1977 in the Galapagos Islands, where she finished her Peace Corps commitment. In February 1978, they returned to the United States.

Betty wanted as normal a life as possible for her new little girl, but she wondered whether it would really be that easy.

Staff writer May Lee Johnson: mjohnson@sbtinfo.com 574-235-6326

(part four of six)